16 December 2021, The Tablet

Boris Johnson’s Christmas party politics

Populism in Britain

Boris Johnson’s Christmas party politics

‘The Prime Minister has been found out by the British public’
Photo: Alamy/PA Wire, Kirsty O’Connor


As the popularity of Boris Johnson and his government plummets, opportunities arise for a revival of the fortunes of parties to his right as well as to his left

It was Prince Albert who famously popularised the Christmas tree in England. The Hanoverians had introduced the idea to court back in the eighteenth century, but it was only after the widespread circulation in The Illustrated London News of an engraving of the royal family around their festive fir at Windsor in 1848 that the idea caught on that, perhaps, everybody might have such a symbol in their own home. By Christmas in the 1860s, Covent Garden was doing a roaring trade and hundreds were being sold every year.

What is less appreciated is that it was also in 1848, that year of revolution across most of Europe, that Prince Albert recognised the dangers of the populist movements that had swept through Sicily, France, Germany, Italy and the Austrian Empire, and might possibly threaten the British throne. And so it was that he conceived his idea of the Great Exhibition of 1851, a diversionary ploy to exercise the enthusiasms of the Great British public from more alarming ideas, such as overthrowing the monarchy.

Queen Victoria’s consort was not the only person to catch the acrid whiff of revolution blowing on the political wind from the Continent, but he was in a position to do something about it. And, as it proved, his idea was both successful and, yes, popular.

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